That’s essentially the depth of the argumentation in the book, The Selfish Genius: How Richard Dawkins Rewrote Darwin’s Legacy by Fern Elsdon-Baker. It’s been a fun bathroom book (flagged!), but I’m afraid the content should be flushed with the other waste. This book is definitely one that can be judged by its cover: a caricatured, petulant looking Dawkins, shouting from a bullhorn. I’m not the first person to point out that many of Dawkins’ critics both religious and non-religious have caricatured him in such a way: “militant”, “strident”, “dogmatic”, “scientistic”, “atheist/scientific orthodoxy”, “heavy-handed”, etc. You’d think this guy was always engaging in extreme hyperbole at the top of his lungs at every turn — some kind of Morton Downey Jr. meets Rowdy Roddy Piper scientist (yes I’m a child of the ’80’s). I’m also not the first to point out that this caricature never matches Professor Dawkins actual demeanor.
In this book, Elsdon-Baker page after page caricatures Dawkins in this manner, except there’s one problem: no examples of such behavior or even quotes of his actual language are ever given in support of this caricature. It is simply declared and assumed by fiat. In a particularly galling example of the vilification of Dawkins, Elsdon-Baker accuses Dawkins of un-scientific-like behavior in his speech and tactics:
However, what is fine for the theatre critic trying to sell newspapers with his entertaining rants or a politician touting for your vote — or a fire-and-brimstone preacher trying to frighten the vulnerable into church — is surely not so acceptable for someone who promotes himself as a spokesman for science… Using intemperate language or shock tactics in this context only serves to further entrench people’s positions rather than encouraging them to become involved in open discussion.
~ The Selfish Genius p. 152
This guy sounds horrible! What quote got the author so riled up? What is this shocking language and scientific heresy that Dawkins engages in? What atrocious behavior causes such criticism? I have no idea, the author never says. Certainly such a public figure as Dawkins who is so ubiquitous on television and in print, one could find a slew of examples which would be readily available to anyone wishing to support such a position. I’m still waiting.
I have yet to see a criticism of Dawkins that is an actual criticism of Dawkins and not same made-up, mythical Dawkins-Creature built of straw: The evil, mythical “Strawkins”. This is so lazy. A hack blogger — like myself — I can see not making the effort to build a solid, well-researched, academic case, in some off-the-cuff opinion piece, but Fern-Elsdon is an academic and this is a published, supposedly researched and edited book. For shame!
Even I was able to manage to dig out a stupid quote from the book I was criticizing and 1) I’m not getting paid 2) I don’t pretend this blog is anything but the equivalent of a layperson’s rant diary and 3) I actually am a bit strident.
Faitheists are annoying. <—————– Strident.
Okay, to be fair Elsdon-Baker finally does get around to quoting Dawkins in the book to prove her point, here’s Dawkins:
I am trying to call attention to the elephant in the room that everybody is too polite — or too devout — to notice: religion, and specifically the devaluing effect that religion has on human life. I don’t mean devaluing the life of others (though it can do that too), but devaluing one’s own life. Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.
She then quotes Dawkins comments on the awful practice of female genital mutilation, and argues that he’s being silly, because of course it isn’t a religious practice, it’s a cultural one. Right. A culture which is instructed, informed, entangled and born of religion.
Here’s another quote by Dawkins that Elsdon-Baker says “Dawkins’ spleen was not just vented on accommodationists, however. His double-barrelled shotgun opened fire on much bigger targets — creationists themselves”. Whoa! That sounds serious. Can’t wait to see what Dawkins said, he must have really brought the hate:
Get the bishops and theologians on the side of science — so the argument runs — and they’ll be valuable allies against the naive creationists (who probably include the majority of Christians and certainly almost all Muslims by the way).
My goodness that’s some invective!
The book goes on to completely conflate Dawkins as a scientist and as a public advocate for atheism. Funny how female genital mutilation can’t be religious, but must be cultural and political, but when Dawkins is clearly being cultural and political in advocating for atheism and against religion, he’s being a scientist. Wow, is that ironic.